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A mainstay of the Swiss economy

Paradeplatz in Zurich (in new window)

Paradeplatz in Zurich: iconic heartland of the Swiss financial centre and home to three renowned Swiss banking institutions. ©

When you mention Switzerland, most people automatically think of mountains and cheese, with banks coming a close third. This is not surprising given that the Swiss financial centre is a central pillar of the Swiss economy, generating over 10 % of Swiss GDP. At the end of 2011, some 211,000 people (full-time equivalents) – or 6 % of Switzerland’s total working population – were directly employed by banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions.

The term "financial centre" generally refers to major cities like New York and London, which have a dense network of banks, financial companies, stock exchanges, insurance companies and international trading firms. These centres boast a high concentration of myriad financial services. Switzerland’s financial centre has four main hubs - Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Lugano.

Players and services

The key players in the Swiss financial centre are the banks. One of their core businesses is wealth management. This is reflected in a ranking of the world’s largest wealth managers, which places three Swiss banks in the top ten. At the end of 2011 Swiss banks managed assets totalling CHF 5,600 billion. In terms of cross-border private wealth management, Switzerland is the undisputed world market leader with a share of 27%, or CHF 2,100 billion (cf. table below).

The second most important players are insurers. Close to 70% of their global premium income in 2011 was generated overseas, indicating a high degree of internationalisation. Swiss insurance companies have increasingly specialised in re-insurance, i.e. where an insurer insures other insurers, making Switzerland the fourth largest reinsurer in the world.

The Swiss financial centre is also a major international force in currency trading, commodity trading and the management of funds of hedge funds. However, in other financial services, such as the funds business, institutional asset management, investment banking, as well as commerce and corporate banking, it continues to play only a minor role.

International comparison

Switzerland is a relatively small country in terms of population, but it is an international heavyweight when it comes to financial services.

The table below provides an overview of the largest asset managers worldwide.

Share of assets under management in international private banking, 2011

Share of assets under management in international private banking, 2011
Source: Boston Consulting Group, 2012  
Switzerland 27%
United Kingdom 25%
Luxemburg 6%
Caribbean 13%
Singapore and Hong Kong 13%
United States 8%
Other 8%

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